A third-grader in Franklin City Schools gets the equivalent of five weeks more classroom instruction per year than a similar student in Fairborn — just one illustration of how dramatically different school calendars and schedules can be.
It’s not an isolated example. Bellbrook’s high school schedule features 112 hours less instructional time than Kettering Fairmont’s (the equivalent of 17 school days), and Centerville elementary students get 108 hours more classroom time than those in Trotwood, according to data submitted by the individual school districts.
But a quick look at Ohio’s state report card shows that more time in front of a teacher doesn’t automatically lead to academic success. Trotwood and Oakwood schools reported the exact same number of hours of instruction at their high schools — both on the lower end of the local scale. But Oakwood was the No. 1 high school in Ohio last year in performance index on state tests, while Trotwood was among the bottom 10 percent.
Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated a correlation between wealth/poverty and academic performance (without agreeing to a clear reason for the link). But research on the effect of longer or shorter school days is more mixed.
“That’s an age-old question,” said Fairborn Superintendent Mark North, whose district has fewer hours of instruction than most locally. “You need the time in order to provide quality instruction, but hours alone are not enough. Nothing is more important than being ‘on task.’ It’s how well you utilize those hours for active learning.”
This newspaper asked dozens of local districts, as well as a handful of charter and private schools, for the number of hours of instruction they scheduled for the 2017-18 school year. The state of Ohio requires a minimum of 910 hours for full-day kindergarten through sixth grade and 1,001 hours for grades 7-12.
No charter or private schools responded, and the 23 public districts that responded varied widely. Mad River schools began the year only 43 hours over the state floor for grades 7 and 8, and they already held a makeup day because snow days put them at risk of going under the minimum.
Meanwhile, a handful of districts — Miami East, Franklin, Miamisburg and Oakwood — scheduled more than 200 hours over the state limit for their elementary schools.
The difference in time can come from more student school days (Northmont’s calendar lists 174 compared to New Lebanon’s 180), as well as longer school days, or differences in the amount of time devoted to lunch or recess, which don’t count as hours of instruction.
Franklin Superintendent Mike Sander said his district’s longer elementary school day allows more time for English and math, more remediation and acceleration time for students on both ends of the spectrum, and more computerized lessons that can be individualized.
“Our kindergarten readiness scores were low, and we need the extra time to close the gap so that all students get to grade level by the end of third grade,” Sander said. “While we have not reached this goal, we had closed the gap significantly, and our students are doing very well. I do believe you will start seeing changes to our state report card soon.”
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Lebanon schools are also on the high end of classroom hours, and Superintendent Todd Yohey said the district “believes in providing as much instructional time as we can. Quality always matters, but quality with additional time is even better,” he added.
Kettering and Miamisburg school officials said they kept their traditional school start and end times the same when the state changed its focus a few years ago to “hours of instruction,” rather than a set number of days.
For Kettering, that means being on the lower side for elementary school grades (1,000 hours), but nearly the area’s highest at the high school (1,174 hours). Oakwood and Centerville were the reverse, ranking high in elementary school hours, but comparatively lower at the high school.
Dan Von Handorf, Kettering’s director of student services, took a developmental approach to the difference, saying younger students generally can handle and retain less than older kids, while Kettering’s high school day is longer, to more closely prepare students for an adult work day.
Kettering’s longer high school day includes seven full academic periods, compared with six in some other schools. Von Handorf said that gives students flexibility to try electives — from engineering and music to accounting and culinary skills — as they try to figure out what they want to do in life.
“That also helps with engagement, because they get to pick classes they’re interested in,” Von Handorf said. But he echoed Fairborn’s North in saying the teacher plays a crucial role. “More than just time, it’s time on task. You could have kids in school all day, but if they’re not on task, they’re not going to benefit from that time.”
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